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Impeachment History Facts and Case Studies

impeachment of bill clinton

Impeachment of Bill Clinton

Over the last few years, and now especially since Hillary Clinton was chosen as the Democrat Party Nominee, there has been a lot of talk about impeachment. A lot of people don’t seem to understand the history and process involved in impeachment. I say this because of the sheer number of people I see on social media making claims such as “Nixon was Impeached” and “Clinton was impeached but refused to leave office”

Summary:

There have been two US Presidents impeached, and one almost impeached but resigned before the House could pass the Articles of Impeachment. Of both Presidents impeached, both were acquitted. No president has been convicted under Impeachment.

Details

The Founding fathers chose to use impeachment as a form of checks and balances to remove corrupt members of the United States Government.

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
US CONSTITUTION ARTICLE II, SECTION 4

In the Declaration of Independence it was written “The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpation’s, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.” The framers continued this by listing the many wrongs and crimes committed against the Colonists, almost all of which were the direct cause of a King having absolute power. When forming our new Government the Forefathers worked to create a balance of power. One way to create this balance of power was to have a process by which to remove the President, Vice President, and other civil officers from office for “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” such as those committed by the King of England. This power has only been attempted on US Presidents three times since the forming of the United States, none of which resulted in a conviction or removal from office. (Declaration of Independence, 1776 [1])

History of the Impeachment in the Constitution.

It was certain that all of the founding fathers wanted a way to remove the President from office during the Constitutional Convention. James Madison said “It may be a reflection of human nature that such precaution may be necessary. But what is government but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” (Madison, 1788 [3]) The argument at first was how it should be done. Some of them thought it should be done by the Supreme Court, but Andrew Jackson said of using the courts as a means of trial of impeachment, “Could the Supreme Court have been relied upon as answering this description? It is much to be doubted, whether the members of that tribunal would at all times be endowed with so eminent a portion of fortitude.” (Jackson, 1788 [2]) And Rufus King of Massachusetts argued that having the legislative branch pass judgment on the executive would undermine the separation of powers.

It was decided then, that as in England, the House of Representatives and Senate be in charge of the impeachments. In England, the House of Commons was in charge of bringing up the impeachment, and the House of Lords to decide the verdict of said impeachment. Andrew Jackson said of this “Where else than in the Senate could have been found a tribunal sufficiently dignified, or sufficiently independent? What other body would be likely to feel confidence enough in its own situation, to preserve, unawed and uninfluenced, the necessary impartiality between an individual accused, and the representatives of the people, his accusers?” (Jackson, 1788 [2])

The impeachment process

Impeachment is mentioned six times in the US Constitution:

  1. Article 1, Section 2: The House of Representatives shall choose their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.
  2. Article 1, Section 3: The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments.
  3. Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States
  4. Article 2, Section 2: The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.
  5. Article 2, Section 4: The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
  6. Article 2, Section 3: The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed.

When a President takes office, they take an oath which says “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” (U.S. Const. art. 2, § 1, cl. 8, 1789) When he breaks this oath by any of the ways defined in the US Constitution, he can be impeached.

In the Manual of Parliamentary Practice Thomas Jefferson describes the exact process, as used by the British Parliament, to be used by the US Congress, to impeach, try, and convict or acquit the accused (Jefferson, 1812 [4]). In this manual, it is described that the process of impeachment should start with accusation, in modern times this is done by bringing information and allegations to the Speaker of the House.  The Speaker then bring the accusations to the Rules Committee, which analyses the allegations, and brings it to the Judiciary Committee which holds hearings, and votes whether or not to impeach. If the decision is impeachment, they render articles of impeachment and send those to the House floor. The House then decides by vote whether or not to impeach by way of a simple majority vote. (Jefferson, 1812 [4])

If the vote is in favor of impeachment, the Senate holds a trial with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presiding on the trial in the case of a Presidential Impeachment, and after hearing all accusations, evidence, and witnesses, votes whether to convict or acquit of all charges, this is done by a two-thirds vote, not simple majority.

If convicted, the Constitution describes punishment as removal from office, and ban on running for any office thereafter. Article 1, Section 3 says “Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor”. To date, 3 Presidents have had Articles of Impeachment rendered, two have gone to trial, and none has been convicted and thus removed from office. Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were both tried and acquitted, and Richard Nixon resigned before there was a trial.

 

Case Studies

Andrew Johnson

After the assassination of President Lincoln, Republicans wanted to pass Reconstruction policies of protection for newly freed slaves and punishment for former slave owners, government, and military officials. In 1866 President Johnson gave speeches which were meant to solidify support for him against the reconstruction policies, but the reputation he earned from these speeches allowed the Republicans to gain a veto proof majorities in Congress taking the power of Reconstruction from him.

Edwin M. Stanton had been appointed Secretary of the Department of War by President Lincoln and as long as he was in office he would comply with Congresses orders.  To ensure Stanton was not replaced, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act in 1867 over Johnson’s veto. The Act required Congressional approval of replacement of members of the President’s cabinet, but gave him the power to replace the members when Congress was out of session.

In 1867, When Johnson failed to get Stanton to resign, he suspended him and appointed Ulysses S Grant ad interim Secretary of War, and the Senate passed a resolution of non-concurrence, which Johnson ignored until Grant resigned from office. He then appointed Lorenzo Thomas to the position. (PBS, 2015 [5])

Andrew Johnson had articles of impeachment written on him on February 24th, 1868, accused of high crimes and misdemeanors. The eleven articles of impeachment written against him were:

  1. Illegal Removal of office of Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of the Department of War.
  2. Illegal Appointment of Lorenzo Thomas to the office of Secretary of the Department of War when there was no vacancy in place of Edwin M. Stanton
  3. Illegal Appointment of Lorenzo Thomas to the office of Secretary of the Department of War without the required advice and consent of the Senate
  4. Conspiring with Thomas to Prevent Stanton from continuing in office
  5. Unlawfully stopping the faithful execution of the Tenure of Office Act.
  6. Conspiring to seize the property of the office of the Department of War
  7. Conspiring to seize the property of the office of the Department of War with the specific intent of violating the Tenure of Office Act.
  8. Issuing to Thomas the authority of the office of Secretary of War with unlawful intent to “control the disbursements of the moneys appropriated for the military service and for the Department of War.”
  9. Issuing to Major General William H. Emory orders with unlawful intent to violate the Tenure of Office Act.
  10. Making three speeches with intent to show disrespect for the Congress among the citizens of the United States.
  11. The 11th was just a summation of the previous 10 articles. (Articles of Impeachment presented against Andrew Johnson, 1868 [6])

 

On March 23, 1868, in the trial of President Johnson, Benjamin Butler, House Manager led the opening arguments against him and Benjamin Curtis argued for the President. Benjamin Curtis had argued that Stanton wasn’t protected by the Tenure of Office act because he was appointed in Lincoln’s first term and was not reappointed in Lincoln’s second term, making him a leftover of the first term. He also quoted minutes from the conference committee minutes proving that the law was passed with the sole intent of keeping Johnson from removing Stanton from office.  (Documentary Evidence in the Impeachment Trial of Andrew Johnson, 1868 [5])

According to the Constitution two-thirds of Senate must vote to convict in an impeachment trial, which would require 36 guilty votes. When the votes were tallied there were 35 guilty votes against Johnson and 19 not guilty votes, not meeting the two-thirds majority requirement, and acquitting Johnson of all crimes. (Final Vote and Adjournment , 1868 [6])

 

The Attempted Impeachment of Richard Nixon

In 1972 five burglars hired by the Committee to Re-Elect Nixon were arrested in the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate Complex in Washington, DC. Late that month, President Nixon told H.R. Haldeman to obstruct the FBI investigation into the Watergate break-in. During Nixon’s re-election, he tried to use political spying and other dirty tricks against the Democratic Party, this included things such as wiretapping and publishing fake letters in newspapers. After these things, the White House had tried to cover up the crimes committed.

The three articles of impeachment issued against Richard Nixon were

  1. Obstruction of Justice
  2. Abuse of Power
  3. Contempt of Congress

On Friday, August 9, Nixon resigned the presidency and avoided the likely prospect of losing the impeachment vote in the full House and a subsequent trial in the Senate. He thus became the only U.S. President ever to resign. Vice President Gerald R. Ford succeeded him and a month later granted Nixon a full pardon for any crimes he might have committed while President. (Place, 2000 [9])

 

The Impeachment of Bill Clinton

On May 6, 1994 Paula Jones sued Bill Clinton for sexual harassment, and in August 1994 Kenneth Starr is appointed Independent Counsel to investigate a real estate deal called Whitewater. In November 1995 Bill Clinton starts a relationship with Monica Lewisnky. In November 1997, Lewinsky tells Jones about her relationship with Clinton. In January 1998 Starr is authorized to investigate Lewinsky and Clinton denies having a relationship with her. In August 1998 Clinton admits his affair with Lewinsky and apologizes for misleading people. In September 1998 Starr’s report is submitted to Congress.  (Law, 2015 [10])

In November 1998 the Judiciary Committee of the House recommend an impeachment inquiry, and House votes in agreement. In December 1998 The House Judiciary Committee approves four articles of impeachment, relating to perjury before the grand jury, obstruction of justice, perjury in a civil deposition, and abuse of power. Two of the four articles of impeachment are approved (numbers 1 and 3):

1. The president provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony to the grand jury regarding the Paula              Jones case and his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.  Approved by House 228-206

2. The president obstructed justice in an effort to delay, impede, cover up and conceal the existence of                    evidence related to the Jones case. Approved by House 221-212

The presiding officer in Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial was Chief Justice William Rehnquist. In the procedural rules for the trial each side would get twenty-four hours to present its case without witnesses.  The Senators would then have two days for a question-and-answer session, only after that would the Senate vote on motions to dismiss or requests for witnesses. Each side would get twenty-four hours to present its case without witnesses.  The Senators would then have two days for a question-and-answer session, only after that would the Senate vote on motions to dismiss or requests for witnesses. (Linder, 2005 [11])

Senators met behind closed doors to consider their votes.  Each senator was allotted fifteen minutes to make a statement.  Most attention was focused on a handful of senators whose votes were not clear.  Republican John McCain announced that he concluded the president “deliberately subverted the rule of law” and that he would vote guilty on both articles.  The one Democrat whose vote was in doubt, Russ Feingold, called the case “close” but said that “if we must err, let us err on the side of avoiding divisions, let us err on the side of respecting the will of the people.”  Feingold would vote to acquit.

February 12, 1999, Chief Justice Rehnquist, after the trial was over, asked for answers on the two charges against Clinton. To the first, the senators had voted 55 in favor, 45 against, and on the second they had voted 50 to 50, neither of which was the two-thirds required for conviction. President Bill Clinton was acquitted on of all charges, and in a press conference that day:

“Now that the Senate has fulfilled its constitutional responsibility, bringing this process to a conclusion, I want to say again to the American people how profoundly sorry I am for what I said and did to trigger these events and the great burden they have imposed on the Congress and the American people.

I also am humbled and very grateful for the support and the prayers I have received from millions of Americans over this past year.

Now I ask all Americans, and I hope all Americans-here in Washington and throughout our land-will rededicate ourselves to the work of serving our nation and building our future together. This can be and this must be a time of reconciliation and renewal for America. Thank you very much.”

– President Bill Clinton, February 12th, 1999.

 

References

[1] Declaration of Independence. (1776).

[2] Jackson, A. (1788, March). FEDERALIST No. 65.

[3] Madison, J. (1788, Feb). Federalist No. 51.

[4] Jefferson, T. (1812). A MANUAL OF PARLIAMENTARY PRACTICE: for the Use of the Senate of the United States.

[5] PBS. (2015). The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson.

[6] Articles of Impeachment presented against Andrew Johnson. (1868).

[7] Documentary Evidence in the Impeachment Trial of Andrew Johnson. (1868).

[8] Final Vote and Adjournment  (1868).

[9] Place, T. H. (2000). The Impeachment of President Nixon.

[10] Law, U. S. (2015). The Impeachment of President William Clinton:

[11] Linder, D. O. (2005). The Impeachment Trial of President William Clinton.

[12] U.S. Const. art. 2, § 1, cl. 8. (1789).

 


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